Air America Is Still On the Air

The much ballyhooed/derided Air America radio network has been on the air for four weeks now, and I’ve been listening live most mornings (since I’m on Pacific time) to its star show, “The O’Franken Factor”, with Al Franken and Katherine Lanpher. I’ve got a few notes on the show and some of the others.

First off, let me say that I can’t take more than a very short period of listening to HannityOReillyLimbaughSavage and their ilk. I have no respect for their lack of factual content, or the lock-step manner in which they hew to the party line. So I offer these comments and criticisms with the hope that they’ll be taken as supportive of the intent of Air America.

“The O’Franken Factor” (OFF) has had some great guests. It’s one truly great thing about the show. Al’s at his best playing off of some of these very intelligent people.

Al needs to loosen his grip on his schtick. Maybe it’s a result of his having worked in comedy and speaking engagements for the past three decades, but he keeps coming back to the same touchstone stories. He’s used the same well-rehearsed items in his books, interviews on talk shows, and probably in his speeches. I understand exactly what he’s doing, because I do the same thing myself. They’re funny a couple of times, but you need to try to keep from telling the same gag to the same audience more than once. It’s hard to do when you’re on the radio fifteen hours a week — the temptation to fill time with a reference to, say, Paul Wolfowitz’s response to a question about the military — but he needs to loosen up and improvise if he’s going to mention the incidents. Don’t repeat it verbatim. Again.

Take more calls, but be smart about about it. OFF relies far too much on prepared material of dubious humor quality, like the Scalia/Cheney duck hunting recording. The show needs the jolt of randomness that comes from a good call, it gives Al something to play off of, and every now and then there’s something really great like the woman who called in today with information about how the President’s under oath when he’s giving the State of the Union speech. Al has a tendency to be too polite to people who need to be cut off, though.

Don’t fall into the partisan trap. A woman from Minnesota called yesterday, saying that John Kerry needed to speak more plainly if he’s going to have a chance to win this November. Al seemed a little flummoxed for a moment, then decided to take it as a criticism and turned it into a call for George W. Bush to tell the truth. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention, maybe he misunderstood the caller, but she had a good point and was just trying to explain what Kerry needed to do to win. Al needs to make sure he’s not just being as reactionary as the guys on the other side.

Use Katherine Lanpher more. She’s great when she’s asking questions of callers or interviewees. She deserves to be doing more than acting as a foil for Al when nobody else in on the phone or in the studio.

One thing I hope that OFF can stay away from is the type of slur another Air America host, Randi Rhodes, indulges in, like playing songs about how much Condoleezza Rice looks like a snake. I don’t like the woman, either, but it’s got nothing to do with her appearance. It’s awfully easy to attack people for their looks, certainly you see plenty of that from people like Limbaugh, who wasn’t above attacking Chelsea Clinton when she was twelve years old.

I’ll cross my fingers.